Melissa Randel is an ethically challenged artist-provocateur in "Roadkill… (Matthew McCray )
At what point does creative freedom collide with moral accountability? Sheila Callaghan’s bleakly sardonic “Roadkill Confidential” at Son of Semele Theater poses the question in uniquely unsettling terms.
Ethical considerations don’t deter megalomaniacal artist-provocateur Trevor Pratt (Melissa Randel) from knowingly constructing her latest work out of furry accident carcasses infected with a strain of tularemia that’s lethal to anyone who touches them. Her dangerous project incurs the invasive surveillance of a sinister one-eyed FBI Man (Daniel Getzoff), who quickly succumbs to judgment-clouding obsession with his quarry.
This femme fatale/corrupted shamus dynamic is subtitled “a noir-ish meditation on brutality,” which sets the play’s tone but ultimately reflects its limitations. On the plus side, Randel’s Trevor transposes classic bad-girl iciness into intellectual zealotry in which even the most callously grotesque act is legitimized when performed in the service of her art. Mordantly witty video sequences by Adam Flemming depict her cartoonishly stylized road kills.
Getzoff’s FBI Man is just as ethically challenged, though less successful at holding up the hard-boiled sleuthing side of the equation; much of his narration plays like recitation rather than lived experience.
Director Barbara Kallir, her supporting cast (Alex Smith, Melina Bielefelt and Alexander Wells) and her design team create an atmospheric alternate world appropriate to Callaghan’s heady and articulate “noir-ish” vision. As the term implies, the piece doesn’t strictly adhere to noir logic or conventions, but its abrupt detours into science fiction or dreamlike absurdism feel like cherry-picking the rules to dodge disciplined follow-through on the issues and situations it raises— there’s a difference between genre mash-up and stylistic mish-mash.
“Roadkill Confidential,” Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 7. $18-20. www.sonofsemele.org. Running time: 2 hours.